7T MRI reveals new view of damage in multiple sclerosis patients

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have harnessed the power of 7 Tesla MRI to better understand multiple sclerosis.

Most hospitals use traditional 3T scanners to image patients. Brigham’s 7T scanner is far more powerful, revealing that a potential biomarker of brain inflammation in MS patients is much more common than previously thought, according to the Nov. 12 study published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal.

"The 7T MRI scanner affords us new ways of viewing areas of damage in neurologic diseases such as MS that were not well seen using 3T MRI; it's capturing nuances that we would otherwise miss," corresponding author Jonathan Zurawski, MD, a neurologist at the Boston-based institution, said in a statement.

Meningeal inflammation is thought to be central to understanding how MS progresses from its early form to secondary progressive disease. This thin tissue protects the brain and spinal cord, but conventional 3T MRI only affords clinicians a limited view of the biomarker, Zurawski and colleagues wrote.

The team sought to use its 7T unit, which was only the second of its kind when approved for clinical use back in 2017, to improve their understanding of MS.

For their study, Zurawski et al. enrolled 30 patients with relapsing, remitting MS—its earliest form—and 15 healthy controls to receive 7T MRI scans. They looked for indications of leptomeningeal enhancement (LME) and gray matter lesions, markers found in a variety of central nervous system infections and inflammatory diseases such as MS.

After analysis, the group discovered that two-thirds of patients with MS had LME compared to only one of the 15 healthy participants (6.7%). Additionally, those MS patients with LME had a four- to five-fold increase in cortical and thalamic lesions, “telltale signs” of gray matter injury, Zurawski noted.

The results of the study are a positive step, but the group explained they can’t say if their findings apply to those with a more progressive form of MS, nor how treating meningeal inflammation may affect a patient’s progression.

"Gray matter injury is an important part of MS, which may be a key factor leading to disease progression," Zurawski concluded. "Our hope is that by finding new markers of this progression, it opens up the opportunity for developing treatments that can prevent progression before lesions become widespread."